When dreams come true
It’s the 4th of May, I’m on my way to catch the 1st flight of the day, leaving from Kruger International Airport to Johannesburg where I’m meeting up with my fellow hikers. Together we are flying to George, then a 2-hour transfer to Storms River Mouth, the start of the Otter Trail.
This 5-day hiking trail goes along the Garden Route and is the oldest and most beautiful trail in South Africa. It stretches from Storms River Mouth in the east to Nature’s Valley in the west and is 44km (that is without detours).
Every day, 12 people get the opportunity to embark on this hike, I was one of them 😊
It’s honestly pure luck that I managed to get a spot on South Africa’s most popular hike, or maybe it’s because I believed it was possible. let me take you back to the end of 2020…
At the end of the year, I always take the moment to review my dreams and goals, often referred to as – the bucket list. Some things stay on the list, some new ones are added and some are crossed out because I actually made it happen – those are the best by the way 😊
2020 was no different from that, although there weren’t many things I managed to cross out, we all know why 🤐 One of the new things I added was that I really wanted to go on a longer day hike in South Africa, preferably the Otter Trail but I wasn’t going to be picky. I started doing some research and made some phone calls.
Seemed like I wasn’t the only one with the Otter trail on their bucket list. It was fully booked for the coming two years 😱 The lady must have sensed my disappointment and suggested that I could put myself on the waiting list in case any cancelation would come in.
That’s what I did and then totally forgot about it.
Until I got a confirmation e-mail in June 2021 for 4 spots on the Otter trail 😜 I was beyond the moon! I paid the deposit and didn’t even worry if I would find 3 other candidates to join me 😊
Of the 3 fellow hikers I only knew one person, Liesl, we’ve been on a Kruger hike before and when you are able to share a tent, you are able to do another hike together. A friend of hers, Helen, and her son, Nick were also joining us. I met them for the first time at the airport in Johannesburg.
Day 01 – 05/05/2022 – Storms River Mouth to Ngubu Hut
Distance 4,8 km – Elevation gain 162m
We stayed overnight in one of the chalets at Storms River Mouth, also the start of the trail and the last opportunity to have a hot shower for the next 5 days.
As usual, I start my day early with my morning routine. Being at the start of a 5-day hike doesn’t change that for me. After I enjoyed my yoga and meditation, I got hold of my journal and made myself a cup of coffee. As soon as the others started to wake up we had breakfast, and everybody got their backpacks ready.
During the hike, you stay in overnight huts, but you must carry everything ranging from food to clean socks 😏 as there are a lot of climbs and boulder hopping on the trail, you want your backpack to be packed solid.
At around 09:00 a friendly employee of Sanparks came to pick us up so we didn’t have to walk the 4km uphill to the start of the trail. Once the necessary paperwork was sorted, we were welcomed in the Otter Trail Room. After a short briefing about the trail, we were ready to get the show on the road!
The first part of the trail started in the coastal forest. The downhill made the start of the trail a quite easy walk. That was until the boulder hopping and rock climbing started at about 2km. I can assure you that lots of thoughts were going through my mind 😏 The start of the trail is also part of a day hike to a waterfall. Seeing people effortless passing you by is a bit frustrating.
Once we arrived at the waterfall we stopped for lunch, enjoyed the company of a couple of seagulls, and said goodbye to the day visitors. From then on, the tranquility of being on a secluded trail started to slowly sink in.
We arrived at Ngubu Hut well in time to enjoy an exploration of the shore and take a well-deserved – cold – shower. Since there were still covid restrictions in place, we had the hut just for the four of us which was an extra plus. We ended our first day with a nice braai!
Day 02 – 06/05/2022 – Ngubu Hut to Scott Hut
Distance 8 km – Elevation gain 627m
We left around 08 AM and started with a very steep ascent. That surely wakes you up! The views onto the coast are spectacular especially, at our first stop, the Skilderkrans quartz outcrops.
We were treated to the sight of dolphins and seals playing in the ocean below us. After our short stop, we kept going until we came to our first river crossing, the Kleinbos River.
The crossing wasn’t too bad, the water was knee-deep just a bit cold to go for a swim 😏
The next stop was the picturesque Blue Bay beach. I felt very privileged to be able to step onto a beach accessible for just a happy few.
After discovering the beach another steep hike was waiting for us before descending to Scott Hut, our hut for the coming night.
The hut was beautifully located next to a river and access to the ocean! The water was even nice enough to go for a short swim.
It was funny to see how everybody gets into a routine as soon as you arrive at the hut. We all got our little corner, the bed we preferred to sleep in, and the way we all unpacked our packs.
Being at such an idyllic location, I took the advantage of doing my daily meditation and yoga on the beach. Note to self, doing yoga in loose sand on the beach is only cool for the pictures 😆
After a nice campfire, dinner, and enjoying the clear beautiful night skies I went to bed early. My legs were very appreciative of that decision 😏
Day 03 – 07/05/2022 – Scott Hut to Oakhurst Hut
Distance 7 km – Elevation gain 512m
After having the perfect hiking weather, we started day 3 in the rain. It was obvious that we all didn’t really feel like going as we were all lingering to get outside in the rain. There was also a certain nervousness among us as we didn’t know what to expect from walking in the rain.
I’m not talking about getting wet, we were well equipped for that, no, we were more worried about the slippery wet rocks and the cold.
Today’s hike mostly took us in between the beautiful fynbos with a couple of steep ascents and descents. And those descents are really underestimated. They take as much, maybe even more, strain from your legs than those ascents!
After about two hours of hiking the sky cleared and the rain made room for some lovely sunshine. It turned out to be the perfect hiking condition.
There were three river crossings on the route today but only one needed us to stop and take our shoes off.
We had lunch at a beautiful, secluded beach and I just took it all in.
Once arrived at the overnight hut, located at the ocean and the banks of the Lottering River, I hurried to get to the (cold) shower and relaxed in our hut. After a while, it started raining again but that didn’t keep me from doing my daily yoga. I even managed to convince the others to join me 😊
We chatted about tomorrow, the longest day of the trail but also the dreaded Bloukrans River crossing. The tide schedule was on our side so we decided that leaving at 07 AM would leave us plenty of time to reach the river in time for low tide.
Day 04 – 08/05/2022 – Oakhurst Hut to André Hut
Distance 14 km – Elevation gain 778m
Today would turn out not only the longest but also the toughest day. In the first part of today’s hike, we kept a rather good pace. Our travel guide has warned us of a rougher part between 4-7km and that wasn’t a lie at all!
Believe me when I say that boulder hopping and rock climbing with a 20kg pack isn’t for sissies! We all made it safely and were still on track to make it in time for our low-tide crossing.
After about 7km into the hike, it started to get a bit easier again, but we were all glad to see the Bloukrans River showing up.
We had lunch at the banks of the river and discussed the different options. One was putting our packs into dry bags and swimming across the river – the water was still very cold. Another option was to take a more adventurous route, read more rock climbing, but avoid packing everything and swimming.
We decided to go for the second option, route B.
As this was serious rock climbing, we made sure that our walking poles were securely stowed away as well as our cameras, cellphones, and anything that could hinder our climbing out of the water.
After a good hour of pure concentration, carefully watching every step I took I made it safely across the escarpment, without getting wet!
The last 4km to our last huts were tiring and I was very, very happy to arrive there!
The outdoor shower was positioned with an awesome view and even though the water was still cold, I enjoyed this last shower on the trail.
The location of the hut was once again very idyllic and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach made the picture complete.
Day 05 – 09/05/2022 – André Hut to Nature’s Valley
Distance 11 km – Elevation gain 325m
The last day of the hike and I was determined to take it all in! I woke up early and found myself a nice spot on the beach long before the sun was coming up. I enjoyed my morning routine while the others were still fast asleep.
Sitting there, listening to the world waking up, I experienced a deep sense of gratitude.
Grateful that my body and mind were ready for this strenuous hike. Grateful that I had the time and the financial means to do this. Grateful that the company was fun and that the weather was on our side.
I realized that the past years of taking care of my overall well-being are paying off. I didn’t really train extra beforehand, I just did what I always do.
The workouts, the daily walks, and yoga… in short, my morning routine – which I kept going during the hike as well by the way.
Those everyday small steps do make a difference and this was a great reminder for me to keep it going!
Because ultimately I want to keep doing these kinds of adventures.
“Small steps in the right direction can turn out to be the biggest step of your life.” – Anonymous
The last day of the hike started with a last steep climb, stunning views, and walks along the cliffs between the Proteas’. For me, the walk on the beach before going into the forest was one of the highlights of the day.
As a surprise, we got a final river crossing 😏 and then made it safely to Nature’s Valley.
Beyond my expectations
I really didn’t know what to expect when I paid the deposit of this hiking trail. You can read so much about it, prepare, and hope for the best.
But honestly, it’s only when you take that first step on the trail and emerge yourself into the adventure that you truly know what it feels like.
You can see the pictures of the stunning views but when you see it by yourself it’s only then that you realize how privileged one is to stand there and take it all in.
It’s hard to describe in a couple of words but stunning, breathtaking and magical come very close.
The steep climbs (read +/- 7000 steps) and descents as well as the boulder hopping and rock climbing with a 20 kg pack made me push my limits.
But every step was worth it!